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More Ohio Consumers Vulnerable To Internet Fraud

In its recent "State of the Net" report, Consumer Reports says individuals now have a one-in-three chance of becoming a cyber-victim. While most consumers pay attention to computer firewalls and other protection of digital information, millions of Americans lose control of their personal information through so-called "data breaches" by business or government.

Raisheeda Mitchell is a busy working mom and also a recent cyber-victim. Mitchell says she tries to keep up with computer security tools, but as she does more business on the internet, and allows her children access too, the task of keeping her computer secure is sometimes daunting. "I've got five kids so I'm on the computer everyday, all day long. And you constantly get block-ups, pops, scams going on.I mean people calling your house when you put information in, things like that. Where you just have to call the bank and alert them of fraud." Says Mitchell.

As a cyber-victim, Raisheeda Mitchell has plenty of company. Consumer Reports says last year U-S consumers lost more than 8-billion dollars to computer fraud. Home internet users have a one-in-three chance of being victimized. The risk is multiplied by recent so-called "data breaches" among both private businesses and government agencies. Attorney Melissa Mitchell tracks privacy litigation from her downtown offices of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease. "One of the things that has happened and really has been fairly recently, since the beginning of 2005, is the loss of massive amounts of what is commonly understood to be personal information from various organizations, companies etcetera, that maintain it." Says Melissa Mitchell.

Since mid-February, 2005, a privacy rights group that lists so-called "data breaches" reports 91,000,000 Americans have had personal information, including social security numbers, credit card data, earnings, personal health information or educational loan or academic data compromised. Privacy rights-dot-org documents 22 such incidents in Ohio. The problem came to light when a company called Choicepoint in Alpharetta, Georgia revealed identity thieves established 145,000 bogus accounts. In Ohio, D-S-W of Columbus, Lexis-Nexis of Dayton, Ohio State University Medical Center, Ohio, Miami, and Kent State University are all among those who reported data breaches or compromises of personal information during the last eighteen months. Attorney Mitchell says 33 states, including Ohio, now have "data-breach" laws.

But, Mitchell says consumers lack what she calls "effective" legal recourse. Even if they're notified of identity theft, its hard for individual consumers to recover financial losses. She advises consumers to tend to computer security on a regular basis. "Like flossing your teeth, say." Says Mitchell.

About a block away from Mitchell's downtown offices, author and Chief Executive Officer of Interhack, Matt Curtin, runs his small business. Curtin's company deals with protection of credit card and social security numbers or any kind of sensitive information that exists in a company or government agency. Curtin says as electronic commerce expands, the amount of information generated by individuals, business, and government, grows quickly. "We move information from one system to another and we duplicate it as we go along. So what ends up happening is that now it is very, very cheap to be able to make a large number of copies of information and the more copies of information the more difficult it is to control its dissemination." Says Curtin. So, the tug and pull between a free-market economy and an individual's desire and need for privacy is heightened. Especially when consumers want convenience.

Curtin says businesses are already responding to the incidents of "data breaches" through use of more sophisticated encryption. He says consumers can more easily protect themselves by monitoring credit reports and declining unnecessary requests for social security numbers.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News.